Sunday, August 12, 2018

Out of Town: Gorey, Co Wexford

"We can normally count on July to be a great month, which helps us to keep going for the year," John Wyse Jackson muses. "But this was a quiet July, because nobody was leaving the beach."

The proprietor of the Zozimus Bookshop in Gorey, John presides over an extraordinarily eclectic collection of books old and new at the back of The Book Cafe which he and his family established in 2011, writes Brian Byrne.

It is the antithesis of the modern all neat and sterile bookshop theme, with the offerings stacked on makeshift timber shelves and hidden alcoves — though everything is carefully placed by theme. On a gently-raining August Saturday afternoon, it was a place of run-around play for the smaller children whose parents or older siblings were looking for something to read, given that their Courtown holiday sunshine had lapsed into normal Irish summer.

"It's all a matter of balance," John says. "If the summer is too wet, people just give up and go home. What we really like is the 'scattered showers' weather."

Yes, remembering my own boyhood family summers in nearby Courtown, Ardamine and Poulshone, even during the scattered showers there was a magic in dashing into the waves. Of course, it was only at weekends when my father was down that we had the transport for excursions from Courtown back into Gorey, which became a highlight of the week.

John Wyse Jackson, who hails from Kilkenny, Tipperary, Limerick, Kerry, Wicklow, Dublin and London through his 65 years, has been a publisher and bookseller in London, and is the author of a number of books of his own. These include off-the-mainstream biographical works on Oscar Wilde, John Lennon, and James Joyce's father John Stanislaus Joyce. He also edited books on the works of Brian O'Nolan before he was Myles na Gopaleen, and various poetry collections.

My visit was brief, an afterthought to the excellent lunch in the quirkily-furnished (well, of course it would be) Book Cafe. But I said goodbye with the thought that John is a man I'd certainly like to know better.

I crossed the road then to Tomás Funge's menswear shop, touching base on memories of the late Paul Funge with whom I was at school in Newbridge College. Paul was even then a larger than life artistic presence. He later developed that into a memorable career on the Dublin arts scene, where I'd occasionally bump into him again. Apart from his enthusiastic promotion of the arts in general, he was an accomplished artist in his own right, his subjects including writers, musical celebrities, and politicians.

Paul was a founder member of the Project Arts Centre in Dublin. In 1970 he came home and established the Gorey Arts Centre, which became one focus for the ground-breaking early festivals that have given rural towns an equivalent opportunity to arts as is in the capital. As the regional arts officer for the midwest, he was also a founder of the Belltable Arts Centre in Limerick.

His nephew Colin shows me a wall in the shop which is a montage of clippings, posters and photographs dedicated to Paul, who died in 2011. On his passing, he was described as 'colourful' in the Irish Times.

"He had a wild, maybe a mad way about him," Colin says.

Yes, he had. But in the best possible way.

(Out of Town is an occasion Diary series about places, attractions and events away from Kilcullen but worth driving to. Gorey is a bustling and bright market town, a little over an hour from Kilcullen.)

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